Planet Earth

Lovely Bones: Gaining a New Respect for Neanderthals


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I tapped photographer Robert Clark for a still life shoot of stone age artifacts for the special issue on Human Origins. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City agreed to let us photograph some selections from their impressive collection. At a large table set up in the hall on the staff-only fifth floor, Clark photographed these ancient objects under the watchful eye of AMNH curators and scientists.

During this shoot I was cured forever of even a hint of snobbery towards Neanderthals while holding a fearsomely massive fragment of a mammoth tooth in one hand and a spear point in the other. Anyone who may have slain a mammoth with a sharp sliver of stone deserves my eternal respect and admiration.

Fragment of mammoth tooth, to the right, a flint that was probably a spearpoint, comes from the Le Moustier archeological site in southwestern France. It was made between 40,000 and 55,000 years ago.

Photographs by Robert Clark

Unfinished needle or a completed awl made of bone or antler dating from 12,000 to 18,000 years ago.

Axheads from the late Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago. These axheads were fitted with wooden handles and may have been used to clear trees, chop wood, or even dig and plant.

The point on this flint was made between 30,000 and 25,000 years ago and still holds its edge. The bone fragment on the right, likely from a prey animal like reindeer, shows cut marks that may have come from a tool used to slaughter the animal.

Top left: two polished stone axes from the late Neolithic period were found in Normandy. Bottom left: Fine points found at the same site in France were probably used in hunting or combat.

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